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Animal bites - self-care

Bites - animals - self-care

An animal bite can break, puncture, or tear the skin. Animal bites that break the skin put you at risk for infections.

Causes

Most animal bites come from pets. Dog bites are common and most often happen to children. Cat bites are less common, but have a higher risk of infection. Cat teeth are longer and sharper, which can cause deeper puncture wounds. Most other animal bites are caused by stray or wild animals, such as skunks, raccoons, foxes, and bats.

Bites that cause a puncture wound are more likely to become infected. Some animals are infected with a virus that can cause rabies. Rabies is rare, but can be deadly.

Symptoms

Possible symptoms include:

  • Breaks or major cuts in the skin, with or without bleeding
  • Bruising
  • Crushing injuries
  • Puncture wounds

Wound Care

Because of the risk of infection, you should see your doctor within 24 hours for any bite that breaks the skin. If you are caring for someone who was bitten:

  • Calm and reassure the person.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before treating the wound.
  • If the wound is bleeding, put on latex gloves if you have them.
  • Wash your hands again afterward.

To care for the wound:

  • Stop the wound from bleeding by applying direct pressure with a clean, dry cloth.
  • Wash the wound. Use mild soap and warm, running water. Rinse the bite for 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Apply an antibacterial ointment to the wound. This may help reduce the risk of infection.
  • Put on a sterile bandage.
  • If the bite is on the neck, head, face, hand, or fingers, call your doctor right away.

For deeper wounds, you may need stitches. The health care provider may give you a tetanus shot if you have not had one in the last 5 years. You may also need to take antibiotics. If the infection has spread, you may receive antibiotics through a vein (IV).

When to Call Animal Control

You should call animal control or your local police if you are bitten by:

  • An animal that behaves in an odd way
  • An unknown pet or a pet that has not had a rabies vaccination
  • A stray or wild animal

Tell them what the animal looks like and where it is. They will decide whether the animal needs to be captured and isolated.

Possible Complications

An animal bite is more likely to become infected in people who have:

  • Weakened immune systems due to medicines or disease
  • Diabetes
  • Peripheral artery vascular disease (arteriosclerosis)

Getting a rabies shot right after you are bitten can protect you from the disease.

How to Prevent Animal Bites

To prevent animal bites:

  • Teach children not to approach strange animals.
  • DO NOT provoke or tease animals.
  • DO NOT go near an animal that is acting strangely or aggressively. It may have rabies. DO NOT try to catch the animal yourself.

When to Call the Doctor

Wild animals and unknown pets could be carrying rabies. If you have been bitten by a wild or stray animal, contact your provider right away. See your provider within 24 hours for any bite that breaks the skin.

Call your provider or go to the emergency room if:

  • There is swelling, redness, or pus draining from the wound.
  • The bite is on the your head, face, neck, or hands.
  • The bite is deep or large.
  • You are not sure if the wound needs stitches.
  • The bleeding does not stop after a few minutes. For serious bleeding, call your local emergency number, such as 911.
  • You have not had a tetanus shot in 5 years.

References

Goldstein EJC, Abrahamian FM. Bites. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 320.

West HH, Weber EJ. Mammalian bites. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 61.

    • Animal bite

      Animal bite - illustration

      An animal bite may not appear to be life-threatening, but if left untreated the bite can lead to a serious infection. An animal bite should be cleaned properly, and the wound should be observed for any sign of infection.

      Animal bite

      illustration

    • Animal bites

      Animal bites - illustration

      Animal bites are injuries that result when flesh is torn between the teeth of an animal. First aid for a bite includes washing minor wounds, applying pressure and dressing with a clean cloth until bleeding subsides. If the animal is wild or domestic but not vaccinated there may be a concern about rabies. When possible the animal must be quarantined or autopsied to determine if it is rabid. A physician will make the decision about rabies prophylaxis.

      Animal bites

      illustration

    • Animal bite

      Animal bite

      Presentation

      • Animal bite

        Animal bite - illustration

        An animal bite may not appear to be life-threatening, but if left untreated the bite can lead to a serious infection. An animal bite should be cleaned properly, and the wound should be observed for any sign of infection.

        Animal bite

        illustration

      • Animal bites

        Animal bites - illustration

        Animal bites are injuries that result when flesh is torn between the teeth of an animal. First aid for a bite includes washing minor wounds, applying pressure and dressing with a clean cloth until bleeding subsides. If the animal is wild or domestic but not vaccinated there may be a concern about rabies. When possible the animal must be quarantined or autopsied to determine if it is rabid. A physician will make the decision about rabies prophylaxis.

        Animal bites

        illustration

      • Animal bite

        Presentation

      A Closer Look

       

      Self Care

       

      Review Date: 5/14/2016

      Reviewed By: Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services / Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

      The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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